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People of all ages and backgrounds experience substance use disorder (SUD). However, older adults often face unique challenges during recovery. Discussing the diagnosis and treatment of SUD with adult children is frequently a difficult task for older adults who may feel ashamed or guilty. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “[N]early 1 million adults aged 65 and older live with a substance use disorder.” West Coast Recovery Centers provides older adults with the support they need to recover from substance abuse and navigate conversations about SUD with adult children. 

The Impact of Substance Abuse on Adult Children

Adult children may already be aware of a parent’s substance abuse, or they may have no idea. The impact of substance abuse on adult children varies significantly depending on the type of relationship they have with their parents and how the addictive behaviors may have affected their lives. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “Children with a parent who has an SUD are more likely than children who do not have a parent with an SUD to have lower socioeconomic status and increased difficulties in academic and social settings and family functioning.” The impact of parental substance abuse varies considerably depending on whether children were affected by it as adolescents, teenagers, or adults. 

Adult children may have spent time healing from the effects of living in a home with substance abuse. Many older adults diagnosed with SUD had experienced some form of substance abuse earlier in their life. Adult children may have been raised during their formative years by an adult under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The conversations parents have with their adult children will be influenced by how long they have been living with SUD. 

Overcoming Regret and Shame

The majority of older adults diagnosed with SUD struggle with alcohol abuse. According to Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, “Despite increasing rates of illicit and prescription drug misuse among adults older than 65 years, alcohol remains the most commonly used substance among older adults.” Many people use alcohol to cope with loss, physical pain, boredom, loneliness, and age-related health issues. Parents may feel guilty or ashamed of their inability to stop misusing alcohol despite repeated attempts. 

People in recovery must find ways to manage or overcome shame, regret, and other negative emotions before they can have objective conversations with their children about the disorder. Therapy and other tools are helpful for finding healthy ways to cope with negativity caused by substance abuse. Older adults in treatment often benefit from disclosing their diagnosis and receiving support from family members and close friends. Furthermore, family therapy is an excellent tool for repairing or strengthening relationships.

How to Have Difficult Conversations With Adult Children

Every parent learns how to have difficult conversations with their children. However, as children get older and build families of their own, those conversations may become more challenging to navigate. Many older adults in treatment for substance abuse find it helpful to work with their therapist or other members of the care team to decide how to approach conversations with their children. 

Some of the topics adults benefit from discussing with their adult children include: 

  • How addiction has affected the family 
  • Treatment and recovery goals 
  • Forgiveness for past mistakes
  • Overcoming differences and compromising 
  • Developing effective and open communication 

Parents often want to provide context for their past choices. However, it is important to have conversations that will move relationships forward instead of focusing on the past. Having conversations with loved ones under the guidance of a mental health professional or counselor ensures the discussions remain objective, on track, and civil. Family therapy and other support services help families avoid conflict and confrontations during discussions. 

Being Accountable and Avoiding Emotional Reactions

Family discussions leave people feeling vulnerable and have the potential to cause emotional reactions. Parents in recovery must consciously choose to be accountable for their past actions and use factual language instead of relying on gut responses. Adult children raised in households where substance abuse was present may blame their parents for the hardships they experienced. Some adult children might have difficulty remaining objective. 

Therapy is an excellent tool for developing open communication between family members. Studies have shown that “[w]hen family members change their thinking about and responses to substance misuse, the entire family system changes.” Clinicians facilitate healthy changes within family dynamics by showing clients how to address past issues while moving forward in their recovery. 

How Does West Coast Recovery Centers Help Clients Repair Relationships With Adult Children?

Family relationships play an essential role in people’s support systems during recovery from substance abuse. Therapy and family support are integral to building a foundation for a healthier future with loved ones. People often need to have deep conversations with their adult children before feeling comfortable moving forward in their recovery. West Coast Recovery Centers understands the importance of creating a healing environment where clients and their adult children can have frank discussions about the effects of substance abuse.

People diagnosed with substance use disorder often struggle to discuss their condition with loved ones, especially adult children. Shame, guilt, and regret cause parents to avoid having necessary conversations with adult children. However, whether their parent’s substance abuse directly impacted adult children or not, being open and honest with loved ones often improves the effectiveness of treatment. Social support is an essential tool for recovery, and adult children are often a source of motivation and accountability for parents in treatment. West Coast Recovery Centers encourages clients to rely on family as part of their support system. To learn more about our programs and services, call our office today at (760) 492-6509.

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